O Come Let Us Adore Him

I stood at church this Sunday and watched the light on the first advent candle [hope] flicker. Considering that I had no clue what an advent wreath was 5 years ago, I am quite thankful my church has one! The first week of advent, with three remaining. And here I am still detoxing from Thanksgiving gorging and family feels. As I see each candle lit consecutively it reminds me to reflect and shows me how short Christmas season really is.

I feel like holiday seasons pass by so much quicker as an adult. Does anyone else feel the same? And with Christmas being a time we give gifts, it can easily become more consumer focused than Christ focused.

I’m working on getting decorations up this week because they help remind me that there is more to this season, even if it’s just awe as I watch the Christmas lights sparkle and ponder Jesus taking human form (fully man, fully God) as I gaze at the nativity set.

I’m also working on an advent calendar for my nephews. I thought about my small but important part in their lives right now and how this Christmas I could make a spiritual impact rather than just giving a toy. I’ve decided to hand make an advent calendar for them with verses each day about the Christmas story with room for reflection and their parents to make it more of a devotion if they wish. I’ll also include some fun, of course. I have candies, stickers, and dollar bills to stuff in there as little gifts as they open one each day. I feel like this is the perfect year to give it now that the eldest is a great reader and the littlest is able to sit still and engage in the activity.

I need to clarify that I am doing this with their parents’ permission. I feel it very important, especially regarding spiritual things, that I get permission and that I do not overstep the parent’s spiritual instruction in their children’s lives as they are the main source and have a big responsibility before God to keep. But in this way, I can do my part this season to share Christ with them in a very special way.

Do you or your family have special traditions that help you remember the reason for the season?

Pragmatic Presents and a Kubo Review

Have I mentioned that my boyfriend is awesome? I managed to miss Kubo and the Two Strings in theaters and was super bummed, so when I saw it playing at our discount theater, I jumped on it. I asked him to get tickets and be there before me since he had the day off from working the weekend and I’d join him at the showing ASAP after work. I got there with a couple minutes to spare and was greeted by his smiling face with tickets in hand AND two of my choices of movie candy to pick from. I probably didn’t need a bag of sour patch watermelon, but it made my day in thoughtfulness. I’ll segway into thoughtfulness in gifting now and end with the Kubo Review (scroll down if gift giving thoughts sound booooring)…

With Thanksgiving around the corner, there is the topic of holiday shopping. Minimizing this year has left me with a more sensible eye and part of that is wanting to give (and receive) pragmatic presents. It matters more than ever that my gift is both thoughtful and useful. I used to search out the most unique gift I could find for people because I felt that it showed the most effort. However, many of these unique gifts, while meaningful, didn’t really have a purpose outside of looking pretty or being different from the rest. I’m consciously removing things like stuffed animals, nerdy notions that are too novel to use, nic nacs, dime-a-dozen beauty/fragrance/accessories, seasonal decor, and clothing that hasn’t been requested. While those items may fit a particular person and situation, they will no longer be items I purchase as general gifts.

The hardest part for me to mentally tackle was the fact that for some people, a thoughtful gift IS a gift card or cash because that’s what they really want or need. I personally used to think if I didn’t give them an item I wasn’t showing an effort or that I truly cared. I finally understand now that I’m wasting my time and effort to get something they may or may not use verses letting them pick out something perfect. I can easily express that effort in a handwritten letter/card that goes with the gift or by including a little something I personally know they enjoy with it. This is something that requires discretion, of course, but many times, people who want gift cards are vocal about it or extra particular about what they want.

Here is my holiday gift thought process:
1) Is it something they will like?
2) Is it something they will use?
3) How often will it be used? How practical is it?
4) Will it bring them joy?

If I were to let others know what/what not to get me, it would be please no clothes, scarves, ponchos, socks, lotions, nail polish, and body sprays, and yes please to books, art supplies, experiences, and music. The older I get the more I like gifts that require the gifter to do something with me. I like “take you to lunch/movie/beach” gifts because their true gift is their company and quality time spent together. I also like when the gift is sharing something they really love with me. That might be getting me a CD from their favorite artist so I can experience them too (even if I don’t end up liking them as much or just think it’s “ok”) or perhaps making me a meal that involves a family recipe passed down from generations.  I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m straining their wallet and at the same time I do feel like they are priceless gifts.

Now for Kubo and the Two Strings. This movie blew away my expectations. For one, the stop motion quality and imaginative design was breathtaking. It also doesn’t fit the emotional but safe trope of children’s animated films. Loss, identity, forgiveness, compassion and gratitude are very difficult themes to tackle and it gives the film a sense of maturity As a lover of fairy tales, I appreciate when tragedy isn’t sugarcoated but is overcome. The idea of bad things happening but looking for good and continuing to do what’s right is not only important in storytelling but in life. I also loved the sense of community felt at the end.

I wasn’t sure how to feel initially. There’s this little boy and his mom dies and his aunt and grandfather want to pluck out his eyes. Yeah – that premise is super creepy and doesn’t sound like something parents would want to take their kids to. But it all makes sense in time. There are some scary elements and the loss of a parent, so it’s not something I’d recommend for children under 10. But for the kids old enough, it is a journey for the eyes and the heart.

Test Results are In!

All the results are back.

I do not have a blood clot. 
I do not have liver and kidney issues. 
My ticker is doing just fine. 

This has been a very expensive process, but so worth the peace of mind! I was really stretched in my faith, and I needed that. Learning to lean on God and trust His will is hard. I don’t even want to dare say that I wholly leaned and trusted the whole time. But I got so much closer. I’m humbled, and mindful of how hard it was; on how much I have yet to grow in the area of trust.

I think the height of my surrender was last week, trying to get a last minute appointment to figure out the test results, and crying in the car and giving it all up to him. At that moment, I knew I could handle whatever was happening, big or small. I actually found it easier to trust God with my health, and harder to find that big faith in paying for all the extra expenses of the medical fees coupled with an upcoming car fix. I’m ashamed to admit that, but want to be real. Did God handle it all and help me figure out how to handle it all? Of course.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we remember to give thanks and find gratitude and I know this small trial is actually something I’m thankful for. I’m glad that I was able to go through this to grow my faith in the Lord. Is the issue gone? No. But I don’t have to worry about a horrible underlying cause.

I hope despite some of the excessive worry and financial freaking out, I was able to bring God glory in this. I am so grateful that no matter how the results could have come back, my God is there for me.

His Name is Kai

I received a very happy call yesterday from my brother with the announcement of his son’s name! They have decided to name him Kai. He explained that picking a global name with many origins in different cultures was perfect as Kai has a rich and mixed heritage of Asian, European, and some Native American descent. Kai means ocean or sea. Coupled with his middle name [which means help], his namesake is “an ocean of God’s help.”

I didn’t put this together before, but he also told me that Kai was born exactly one month after the bad car accident, one that is still causing him trouble from his brain injury. He said in that period of time he really saw God’s help and help from others as they prepared for the little guy’s birth. I later told him that phonetically, it sounded very similar to the Khmer word for “month” which is also a beautiful testament to how something beautiful can happen despite hard circumstances with time and patience.

People thought N+R were so strange to go the “traditional route” and wait to find out the sex of the baby at birth. They were further flummoxed by the fact they hadn’t picked a name on his birth date. It’s interesting to think that the first thing we possess isn’t material and is given by others; that’s quite humbling. A name carries so much meaning, whether it is after a friend, relative, or icon or was picked for the meaning or because it felt meant to be.

Something else that is quite sentimental to me is that since N+R are currently renting the old family home, baby Kai’s room was my old nursery. And so another generation of our family plants their roots in that home. ❤

Self Harm No Longer

This blog post is really hard for me to talk about and admit, even though it’s probably been evident to people longer than it has to me because of location.

I grew up thinking self harm was inflicting horrible pain upon yourself or cutting your wrists. And I ignorantly thought that since I once attempted to cut my wrists with a knife and it scared me shitless that I didn’t self harm.

Except I have been for a majority of my life. And I’m publicly posting this as a commitment to stop.

Whenever I’m anxious, frustrated, or unable to cope with my feelings, the first thing I do is pick my arms. I will scratch with my nails until I draw blood or pinch my skin until it opens and then I will pick the scabs and not allow them to heal. Sometimes when I feel neck deep in anxiety the first sign is not how I feel (when I’m neck deep I don’t “see” it), but looking at my forearms. They will be spotted with red welts, dry flaking patches of dead skin tired of scabbing, and dark traces of where a wound has been.

Nobody has really talked to me about it. Maybe they didn’t know why or didn’t want to be rude.  I guess it may disguise itself to others looking like psoriasis that comes and goes. Or perhaps people thought they were bug bites I scratched until bleeding. But I know why.

The reason varies. Sometimes I feel nervous or overwhelmed and it gives me something to distract myself with. Sometimes I feel frustrated with myself or a situation and I feel relief with “punishing” myself. Sometimes I need to fidget and ground myself and that is what I resort to.

I cannot practice self care while still practicing self harm. I am consciously acknowledging that the pain and comfort of scabbing my arms is not acceptable and not the right response. I am forgiving myself instead of letting myself think I am despicable. I am translating that energy and relief into writing with mindfulness and fidgeting with jewelry or my fitbit.

I commit today to self harm no longer.

Made Up: Realizing Skin Deep Perspectives

Confession time. There are times I get extra dressy and made up for my boyfriend. For what purpose I’m not quite sure. Some compliment fishing, if I’m honest? But mostly because I want to look special to show love and appreciation when we do something special, or to make a casual date something special.

Except that’s not how Josh ever sees it. Seriously, this guy doesn’t give me a second look over most of the time. And HE never dresses up for me unless it’s a dress code for the event. What gives? Doesn’t he know I suck at makeup and it took me a LONG time to get this put together? Doesn’t he know I fussed over what to wear today to tie to all together?
Once in a while, he’ll tell me he hasn’t seen my shirt or dress or something before and ask if it’s new. That’s pretty much the extent of it.

Do you see how fussy and huffy and full of expectations my last paragraph was? I can and have gotten flustered over it.

But it finally dawned on me after forever and a day why he doesn’t say anything, and it’s not because he doesn’t notice or isn’t a good man. It’s because he’s a good, honest, and simple man. It’s because as awful as I paint him in paragraph 2, that is just a biased perspective that isn’t being rational.

The truth is, Josh has told me multiple times I don’t need makeup, he likes me fresh faced just as much. He also compliments my physical traits at the strangest times. We’ll go on a rigorous hike or drive back to my place after the gym and he’ll glance over and say “Pretty Kitty” when I’m dripping sweat, frumpy, and could probably afford more deodorant. We’ll be three episodes into a Netflix binge and I’m in comfy clothes and day worn makeup and he’ll compliment my beauty.

That’s because, as shallow as I think of myself at times, my guy doesn’t see my beauty as conditional or situational. So why make a big fuss out of fancier clothes or extra beauty products? My lesson here is that in a relationship, dating or married, expectations are sometimes false perspectives on reality. What we expect of another person may sometimes paint them in a bad light and be a lie. That lie for me sometimes is that he doesn’t appreciate my extra efforts or doesn’t think much of my looks. But when that perspective is fully illuminated, I see that isn’t the reality of things at all.

Next outing I will dress nicely to feel nice for me, and take the extra effort to communicate verbally that I appreciate this time with him. That the two of us adventuring or enjoying everyday things are special to me.

Nowhere Near

Last night the volume in the house got a bit loud and heated. It was stupid, it was frustrating, and it was a situation where I just needed to get out. Given the fact it was nearly 11pm, I also didn’t have many options.

I drove slowly through neighborhoods hoping I didn’t look like I was thief scoping my next home to plunder. After a while, I parked in front of a home I was familiar with, but dared not disturb that acquaintance at that hour. Two teenage looking guys on bikes rode through the street and decided to pass awfully close to my car and I booked it out of my hiding spot.

As I went back to weaving through quiet sleeping cul-de-sacs, I realized in sadness that I DIDN’T HAVE a place to go. My boyfriend is a few towns away, and he would have been there in a heartbeat or let me come over, but I didn’t have a non-family member I could trust to bare my soul to and not hate me for crashing their place at 11pm.

I live in a good town. There is generally nothing to fear, and we are ranked one of the top safest places to raise a family. But when night falls, even our town tends to get shady. In the daytime we are family friendly residential and shopping spots, but at night you see what I assume is drug dealing and the like.

I’m longing to have that close friend again. One where I can plan weekend fun with, or chat over coffee with. I have some wonderful acquaintances here, but we just don’t fully mesh. I don’t know if I shoo people away without knowing it or if I’m just horrible at making really close friends? Either way, there’s an emptiness where a close friend should be, but I don’t know how or when that gaping hole will be filled.

I think one of the hardest parts of being a quarter-lifer is having so much change happening around you or to you. Those connections you built in your youth dissipate as people pursue careers, callings, and have families and move away.

I cling to my amazing friends states away, but sometimes, I just need someone near. An actual girl friend with a shoulder I don’t have to metaphorically lean on, because she’s right there.

You’re already so loved.

Part of my goals for today is spread this beautiful message by Sarah Bessey.

Please do take a moment to read it. Please take a moment to process the words. Please take a moment to consider how loved you are no matter your circumstances.

Moments as Souvenirs

The last few years, as the friends closest to me move states away, I realize that the object of my vacations are moments together rather than sightseeing. Since everyone’s so scattered it has been fun to see their new haunts and homes and see what their state is all about.

This past trip was a long time coming. It’s been three years since I’ve seen this best friend and family (I did see her briefly last year when she flew out alone for her grandfather’s memorial.) I pretty much have best friends and then acquaintances, so I don’t mean to have her sound like she’s the only one that matters, but sometimes in life, you are so close to someone you are practically sisters/family. That’s the case here. She pursued a friendship with me during a dark time in my teens where I lost hope in people. From there, I stuck by her side through some heavy stuff in her life. We’ve seen the worst and best of each other, and because of that, we have a bond that is unbreakable. And as her family grew, I was at each birth and am an honorary auntie to her three precious boys.

Her youngest wasn’t even one when they moved, and I was nervous about how long it would take to warm up to me. We skype and my friend mentions me often, but three years is a long time for young kids. When they picked me up, the younger 2 were there and staring/adoring me. I had to stifle a cheesy grin and pretend I didn’t notice it. They wanted to reacquaint with me and that was taking in every detail of what I looked like. The littlest one was talkative and chattered with me right away. The middle smiled but was soft spoken the first day. The eldest was in bed by the time I got to their place, but the next morning, he hugged me and it was like old times.

God has been working great things in this family and it was so neat to just be a part of their week. All of them are doing so well there, and I can’t even selfishly wish they’d move back. I know they are where they should be and they flourish here. I am so proud of the life my best friend and her husband have made for themselves here.

The sweetest parts of the trip were all of us in the car getting eldest brother to school and praying all together before they got to the school. And all of us gathered, mommy, daddy, the kids, and me – holding hands and praying together at bedtime. And of course, hearing three little voices tell me throughout the day, “I love you, Auntie Laura.”

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Making lego gummies and gummy bears with Auntie Laura.

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At the waterfall fifteen minutes from their home. Yeah, it’s crazy. There’s water everywhere here.

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Pedis with the bestie!

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Frozen custard – A local favorite!

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Another spot not even 15 minutes away with gorgeous waterfalls.

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The rock formations and lushness around it just makes it even more breathtaking.

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So much green! So much water!

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Turtle boy! One of the funniest moments! The youngest is such a goofball! He was playing in his carseat, collapsed in it all buckled in, and started walking around like a turtle.

It was hard to say goodbye the last day. I know I’ll be back, but I also know an annual trip isn’t going to happen, so it’s bittersweet. My best friend and I talk nearly everyday though. We stay close mostly through messaging each other and social media and skyping.

I came back feeling really rested, really loved, and full of love. ❤